Korean Peninsula Looks More Divided than Ever

21 03 2016

Kaesong Industrial Park closing(AFP, Daily Mail, 12 February 2016) North and South Korea’s perennially volatile relations seem headed for a new and potentially dangerous low, with all official lines of communication cut off and a host of tension-raising issues on the near horizon.

The two rivals, who have remained technically at war over the past six decades, have faced and weathered numerous crises in the past, but the current situation feels particularly grim in the wake of the North’s recent nuclear test and long-range rocket launch.

Any hope of compromise or dialogue seems to have been indefinitely shelved, with a leader in Pyongyang confirming an unwavering commitment to nuclear weapons development, and a counterpart in Seoul determined to react firmly — and proactively — to any North Korean provocation.

And the standoff is taking on wider Cold War-like dimensions, with the divisions between the main parties to the North Korean nuclear issue — China and Russia on one side, the US, South Korea and Japan on the other — increasingly stark and antagonistic.

The new mood on the divided peninsula played out this week in the effective termination of the sole remaining North-South cooperation project — the Kaesong joint industrial zone lying 10 kilometres (six miles) over the border in North Korea.

– A talisman for ties –

Despite its obvious vulnerabilities, Kaesong had taken on a talismanic image by riding out pretty much every inter-Korean crisis thrown up since it opened for business in 2004.

“In a way, it’s a miracle it lasted that long,” said Leonid Petrov, an expert on North Korea at the Australian National University.

But on Wednesday, Seoul announced it was suspending all operations of the 124 South Korean companies in Kaesong, and yesterday Pyongyang responded by expelling all the firms’ managers and freezing their factories’ assets.

The North placed the complex under military control, while the South cut off all power and water supplies.

“I don’t see any way back for Kaesong now,” Petrov said. “It’s gone too far and there’s no real will in the North or South to work it out.”

Kaesong was born out of the “sunshine” reconciliation policy of the late 1990s.

One of the roles initially envisaged by Seoul was of Kaesong as a beachhead for market reforms in North Korea that would spread from the complex and expose tens of thousands to the outside world’s way of doing business.

Although that vision never materialised, some analysts still mourned its demise for closing a small but crucial open door on the world’s most heavily-militarised border.

– ‘Great leap backwards’ –

“With no Kaesong, South and North Koreans will no longer be in contact anywhere on a regular basis. That is a great leap backwards,” Aidan Foster-Carter, a Korea expert based in Britain, wrote for the NK News website.

Chang Yong-Seok, a senior researcher at the Institute for Peace and Unification Studies at Seoul National University, said one of Kaesong’s most important contributions had been to help keep inter-Korean rivalries in check.

“The Koreas both had a stake in Kaesong so they were able to restrain each other in some ways, but now that has all gone out the window,” Chang said.

The space for communication between Seoul and Pyongyang shrank further on Thursday, when the North announced it was cutting the last two remaining communication hotlines with the South.

The hotlines themselves have never been used for conversational diplomacy, but they were key to setting up meetings where such discussions could take place.

The severing of all contacts comes ahead of a period when crisis-control talks could be most needed.

– Tensions ahead –

North Korea will likely react strongly to whatever sanctions the UN Security Council eventually agrees to impose over its nuclear test and rocket launch.

Then in March, South Korean and the United States will kick off a series of annual military drills that the North views as rehearsals for invasion and which always see a spike in tensions.

Pyongyang’s claims of provocation over the exercises should be especially shrill this time, as Seoul and Washington also begin talks on deploying an advanced US missile shield in South Korea.

“South Korea and the US have said the drills will be on an even larger scale than usual which is sure to meet a big backlash from North Korea,” said Chang.

“So, with all this, I think we’re going to see tensions running at a level incomparable to previous years,” he added.





Two Koreas to continue high-level talks on Friday

14 02 2014

Panmunjom(NKnews.org 13 February 2014) North and South Korea will return to high-level talks on Friday to continue discussions on the subject of inter-Korean family reunions and looming U.S. and South Korean joint military drills.

Friday’s meeting follows lengthy inter-Korean negotiations held at Pyongyang’s request on Wednesday that failed to result in any tangible agreement between the two sides.

At Wednesday’s talks North Korea communicated to South Korea that forthcoming Foal Eagle and Key Resolve military drills should be cancelled or postponed, so at they do not overlap planned family reunions between February 20 to 25.

But on Thursday South Korea rejected the request, with South Korea’s Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae telling parliament: “As far as we’re concerned, it’s impossible.”

While Reuters reported that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday that North Korea should not link forthcoming military drills with the issue of family reunions, one North Korea expert Leonid Petrov told NK News he was not optimistic about progress at Friday’s talks.

“If the South Koreans wanted to reopen Geumgangsan Mt. Resort they would have done so long time ago. The North Koreans know that and deliberately insist that family reunions should take place there. The timing for proposed family reunions is also ominous, given the joint ROK-US military drills in the area are scheduled precisely on the same day.”

Kerry also said on Thursday that the military exercises with South Korea later this month will be the same as those conducted in previous years.





North Korea to return six detained South Korean citizens

24 10 2013

dmz-from-north-korea_1(BY CHAD O’CARROLL , NK News, OCTOBER 24, 2013) North Korea announced on Thursday that six South Koreans who had been detained for illegally entering North Korean territory would be soon be released via the DMZ Panmunjom truce village.

“The North sent an official notice that the six will be returned at the neutral truce village of Panmunjom Friday afternoon,” an anonymous Minister of Unification official was quoted as saying Thursday by South Korea’s Yonhap News.

Mysteriously, the unification ministry source said that four of the six detainees had been previously mentioned by North Korean state media in February 2010, suggesting that at least part of the group may have been in North Korea for several years.

“A relevant institution of the DPRK recently detained four south Koreans who illegally entered it. They are now under investigation by the institution,” a short Korea Central News Agency bulletin said on February 26, 2010.

[…]

One expert told NK News that the news could be Pyongyang’s way of indicating a desire to warm inter-Korean relations, which despite improving in summer have been cooling of late.

“North Korea’s decision to release 6 detained South Koreans is another test for ROK President Park Geun-Hye’s “trustpolitik”. Now it will be up to Seoul whether to reciprocate, using this initiative as opportunity for reopening dialogue, trade and reconciliation” Leonid Petrov, a researcher at Australia National University, told NK News.

“49 North Korean spies have been caught in South Korea in the last decade, 4 of them just this year. Park Geun-Hye could pardon and deport them to the North as a symbolic sign of trust-building aimed at improving inter-Korean relations,” Petrov added, also pointing out that, “South Korea claims that about 500 of ROK citizens – most of them fishermen – are being held by North Korea: If Kim Jong-Un is serious about mending bridges with the South, he should let those people go or, at least, permit communication with them.”

South Korea’s National Security Law makes it illegal for South Korean nationals to make unauthorized contact with North Korea or enter North Korean territory. Normally, North Korean law also forbids South Koreans from entering DPRK territory.

In July 2012 68 year old South Korean national Ro Su-hui was arrested after walking from North to South Korea at Panmunjom. He was sentenced to four years imprisonment for illegally entering North Korea and ”benefiting the enemy”.

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S. Korea postpones international investment roadshow at Kaesong

15 10 2013

kaesong-complex-dprk(BY OLIVER HOTHAM, NK News, OCTOBER 15, 2013) SEOUL – An investment roadshow aimed at promoting foreign investment for the joint-run Kaesong industrial complex has been postponed, the South Korean government announced on Monday.

The event, intended to be held at the end of the month on October 31, had been planned to encourage foreign companies to set up factories in the jointly run Kaesong industrial complex, which currently only hosts South Korean companies that use North Korean labor. North Korea was informed of the postponement on Friday, and a new date for the show is yet to be set.

A Unification Ministry spokesperson who declined to be name told Agence France Presse that the delay was “inevitable” due to recent deteriorations in cross-border relations and “the lack of progress at talks with North Korea to enhance communication, and travel to and from Kaesong”.

“As is known,” the spokesperson said, “negotiations on Internet connectivity, mobile phone use, utilization of radio frequency identification tag to ease travel and customs inspections have made no headway since the North called off working-level talks for the Sept. 26 meeting”. The spokesperson said the government had decided that because of this failure to agree on matters crucial to foreign investors, they saw no point in going ahead with the roadshow.

“South Korea’s decision to postpone an investor-related event in the Kaesong Industrial Park is another indication of President Park’s “Trustpolitik” failure,” Professor of Korean History at Australia National University Leonid Petrov told NK News, explaining that “trust in inter-Korean relations is not going to be restored without concrete and mutually beneficial projects, such as Kaesong and Kumgangsan”.

“Only by ending the Korean War and formally recognizing one another can South Korea and North Korea improve the investment climate,” Petrov argued. “Without such changes, business people (both Koreans and foreigners) will remain hostages of Seoul and Pyongyang’s political games”…

See the full text of the article here…

 





Koreas agree to further talks, inspect joint factory

9 07 2013

North-South-Korea-factory-talks_2013.07.08(By Steven Borowiec, The Christian Science Monitor, 8 July 2013) After 16 hours of negotiation North Korea agreed in principle to normalize operations at the inter-Korean industrial complex, which has been idle for nearly three months.

North Korea met over the weekend with South Korea on its side of Panmunjom Peace Village, taking steps to normalize operations at the jointly-maintained Kaesong Industrial park – an idled symbol of inter-Korean economic cooperation.

North Korea agreed to permit businessmen to visit the complex Wednesday to check out the facilities that have been idle since April, when North Korea blocked South Korean workers from entering the complex and then pulled out some 53,000 of its own workers. The two Koreas are planning to hold talks Wednesday about restarting business at Kaesong.

Analysts say that for North Korea, restarting operations at Kaesong could be less important than using the negotiations to extract larger forms of support from South Korea.

“The regime in North Korea wants to appear cooperative while working for something more substantial from South Korea, something like unconditional aid and investment,” says Leonid Petrov, a researcher in Korean studies at the Australian National University. “Aid, sponsorship, charity – those are the things they’re most interested in.”

In fact, says Dr. Petrov, domestic media reported that North Korea has dispatched its workers in provinces away from the complex, which indicates that perhaps it doesn’t plan to resume operations there in the near future.

More than 120 South Korean companies once operated at Kaesong, which opened in 2004 as a project to pair South Korean manufacturers with inexpensive North Korean labor. South Korean companies paid workers wages that were high by North Korean standards. In 2012, the industrial park, largely seen as an achievement in inter-Korea ties, produced $470 million worth of goods and earned North Korea about $80 million in workers’ wages, according to South Korea’s Ministry of Unification.

Before the talks, North Korea gave permission to South Korean businessmen to visit the complex, but the Park Geun-hye government in Seoul insisted that inter-Korean exchange go through the government, not through private groups or individuals.

On June 9, the Koreas held working-level talks, the first inter-Korean talks for two years. Those were meant to be preliminary discussions ahead of minister level talks that were scheduled for later that week, but the second talks were called off after Seoul and Pyongyang couldn’t agree on the rank of the delegation leaders.

In the first few months of this year, North Korea was exceptionally hostile with its rhetoric, making violent threats against Seoul and Washington. Analysts say the more conciliatory approach seen in this weekend’s agreement to allow visits is part of a typical pattern of behavior where Pyongyang alternates threats with moves toward rapprochement.

“North Korea usually comes out swinging in the first half of the year, then in the second half launches a kind of peace offensive,” says Sung-yoon Lee, assistant professor of Korean studies at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University. “It was preordained that North Korea would want to talk about restarting the [Kaesong] complex now.”

Coming into this weekend’s negotiations, South Korea said it would seek a written guarantee from North Korea that Pyongyang would never again unilaterally shut down the complex. Analysts see this as a potential stumbling block in Wednesday’s scheduled talks; North Korea may object to making any promises about what it will do regarding facilities that are in its territory.





Moment of truth coming for President Park’s ‘Trustpolitik’

29 05 2013

park-geun-hye-multiplyingby Leonid Petrov (Australian National University, NKnews.org 28 May 2013)

CANBERRA – Inter-Korean relations are in the lime-light again. On June 15, Koreans in the North and South were meant to celebrate another anniversary of their first historic summit, which took place in Pyongyang thirteen years ago. Nevertheless, the late South Korean President Kim Dae-Jung and North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il would have been very sad to see how their successors continue destroying the legacy of the Joint North-South Korean Declaration.

After the recent exchange of threats and muscle-flexing, the demise of the Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC) came as a symbolic end of a once-blooming inter-Korean reconciliation. What is particularly disturbing is that this happens just months after newly-elected South Korean President Park Geun-Hye had pledged to implement a new North Korea policy.

TRUSTPOLITIK

Based on the two principles of ‘Trustpolitik’ and ‘Alignment’, Park’s strategy was supposed to be more pragmatic than Kim Dae-Jung’s ‘Sunshine Policy’ but less ideologically-driven than Lee Myung-Bak’s ‘Vision 3000’. Disappointingly, Park’s strategy for the normalization of inter-Korean relations was flawed from the outset.

She emphasized the promotion of cooperation in security, which is impossible in the context of the continuing Korean War. She also insisted that the trust building process would be linked to the progress in resolving the nuclear issue and, finally, Park outwardly declared that her goal was to encourage North Korea to become a “normal state”. Such a program certainly has no appeal for Pyongyang to be cooperative in its realization.

The last five years have shown that neither in Seoul nor in Pyongyang is there any appetite for cooperation. The zones of economic cooperation are now dead and buried; they were too expensive for South Korean entrepreneurs and too damaging for the North Korean regime.

Politically, North and South Korea continue to demonstrate disdain to each other. In April Seoul was “demanding” that Pyongyang negotiate the resumption of KIC operations by setting an ultimatum. In response, the North cut a military hot line connecting the two militaries on both sides of the DMZ. In reciprocation, Seoul has recently brushed off a North Korean offer to resume the Six-Party Talks.

IMPOSSIBLE FACE-OFF

Zero-sum game on the Korean peninsula is continuing. Whatever North Korea proposes is blocked by the South and vice versa. Pyongyang policy makers know all too well that the Blue House in Seoul will refuse their offers, regardless of how sensible or tempting they might sound.

Similarly, the conservative Saenuri Party does not want to look weak or manipulated by Pyongyang’s initiatives and will always find a reason to decline the offer. Interestingly, however, mistrust between politicians sometimes creates some rare windows of opportunity, which could lead to a major breakthrough in inter-Korean relations.

No sooner did South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-Se call upon North Korea to make some steps to resume economic cooperation in Kaesong then Pyongyang proposed the return of South Korean managers to the ill-fated Industrial Complex. The South has all reason to fear the abduction or usage of its citizens for propaganda campaign, but this visit could be helpful in minimizing financial losses through the conservation of the abandoned facilities until times are better.

This informal meeting could also be used as a second track dialogue opportunity to improve the atmosphere for government-level negotiations. Will South Korea use this occasion to break the vicious circle of mistrust with North Korea? The moment of truth is coming for President Park’s ‘Trustpolitik’.





North Korea Threat: is it cooling?

11 04 2013

NK missile launch drills (By Steven Borowiec, Chrisian Science Monitor, 10 April 2013) North Korea threat of missile launch continued to preoccupy the region today, which was the deadline North Korea gave for foreigners to leave South Korea to avoid conflict. But nothing happened.

North Korea picked Wednesday April 10 as the day by which foreign embassies in Pyongyang should submit evacuation plans, foreigners should leave South Korea, and South Korean workers should leave the now barely functioning Kaesong Industrial Complex, hinting at a provocation that could bring the area into a state of conflict.

Though North Korea has threatened South Korea many times in the past, this time analysts are viewing the situation differently, seriously considering the possibility of a large-scale provocation from the North. North Korea is believed to have moved two Musudan missiles to its eastern coast last week, leading many to predict an imminent missile launch. South Korean and US defense forces responded by upgrading their military surveillance postures looking for signs of a North Korean rocket launch.

But as the day came and went with no observed action, it raised the question: Have North Korea’s heated rhetoric and threats been bluffs? “The general principle is to escalate tensions in order to later be able to negotiate from a position of strength,” says Leonid Petrov, a researcher in Korean studies at Australian National University.

Musudan missiles have a range of about 1,875 miles, meaning they could reach anywhere in South Korea, Japan, or the US territory of Guam. But as the Musudan missiles have never been flight-tested by North Korea, their launch might be unlikely, as the North would be wary of the loss of face that would come with an unsuccessful launch attempt.

According to analysts, the raising of tensions may be a deliberate ploy to create an atmosphere of nervousness about North Korea’s next move and thereby strengthen Pyongyang’s hand when it comes time to negotiate next with the international community. North Korea, for example, raised eyebrows with seemingly irrational acts like pulling workers out of the joint North-South Kaesong economic industrial park, an important source of revenue for the cash-strapped country.

According to Mr. Petrov, this type of short-term move could pay off down the road when North Korea seeks aid or economic assistance. Hostile rhetoric can also contribute to more important ends like rallying citizens around an ideology of confrontation with enemies, particularly the US and South Korea. “North Korea’s leadership is willing to do things that may be self-harming in the short term. Money is not the most important thing to them. Things like maintaining their system, the stability of the leadership, the isolation of the people from other sources of information, those are the most critical things,” says Petrov.

In a New York Times opinion piece on Tuesday, Kookmin University professor Andrei Lankov wrote, “Put bluntly, North Korea’s government hopes to squeeze more aid from the outside world. Of late, it has become very dependent on Chinese aid, and it wants other sponsors as well.”

Today in Seoul, the US Department of State reiterated its position that there was no reason for US citizens to expect any special danger in South Korea, in a statement that read, “North Korea’s reported ‘advice’ to foreigners that they depart South Korea only serves to unnecessarily and provocatively escalate tensions.”

Still, South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se told a parliamentary hearing today, “according to intelligence obtained by our side and the US, the possibility of a missile launch by North Korea is very high.” Mr. Yun added that a missile launch could still come “at any time.”

South Korea’s police raised their state of terror alert one level from “attention” to “caution” out of concern for a possible North Korean terrorist attack.

Dates and numbers have great symbolic importance to North Korea, so Pyongyang often schedules what Washington calls “provocative acts” around holidays and important political events. Some are eying the anniversary of the birthday of Kim Il-sung, the state’s founder and the current leader’s grandfather, on April 15.

Also on Wednesday, the South Korean government announced that it had determined that North Korea was behind cyber-attacks that disrupted the systems of several banks and broadcasters on March 20. This has fed speculation that North Korea will increasingly use asymmetric tactics that are still harmful but avoid direct military conflict, where it is at a significant disadvantage.